Former Washington Capitals forward Ilya Kovalchuk is a champion once again, as his current team in the KHL, HC Avangard Omsk, became the 2021 Gagarin Cup Champions on Wednesday. (The Gagarin Cup is the KHL’s equivalent to the Stanley Cup). HC Avangard won their fourth game in the best-of-seven series against CSKA Moscow, 1-0.
HC Avangard Omsk won the series in six games, beating a very heavily favored CSKA team, who were the reigning champions, winning the last Gagarin Cup in 2019. (This Gagarin Cup Finals was the first one held since 2019, as the Gagarin Cup Finals did not take place in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
It was the first time that HC Avangard had ever won the Gagarin Cup. Although Avangard won the Russian Super League Championship in 2004.
While Kovalchuk did not score any goals or record any assists in the final round of the playoffs, he contributed in another important manner. He served as the team’s Captain, because their regular Captain, Alexei Emelin, got very ill on April 6, after the first game of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, and needed to go to the hospital. Emelin was sick enough to require intensive care treatment.
(Note: Emelin has now been released from the hospital and was able to watch the championship clinching game and be on the ice for the celebration.)
Throughout the four rounds of the 2021 Gagarin Cup playoffs, Kovalchuk played in 24 games, scoring 4 goals and recording 5 assists for 9 points overall. He served as the team’s Captain for the last twelve games while Emelin was sidelined.
During the 2020-21 KHL season, Kovalchuk played in 16 games, scoring 5 goals and recording 12 assists for 17 points. He joined HC Avangard for 2020-21 as he was unable to land a job in the NHL.
— NoVa Caps (@NoVa_Caps) April 28, 2021
By playing for HC Avangard, he was reunited with former Head Coach, Bob Hartley, who coached him during his time with the Atlanta Thrashers. Hartley had been Head Coach of the Thrashers from January 2003 through October 2007. Kovalchuk played with the Thrashers from 2001-02 through 2009-10.
Hartley’s Gagarin Cup win this season allowed him the achievement of having been Head Coach for both a Stanley Cup Champion and a Gagarin Cup Champion, as he was Head Coach when the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup in 2001.
This is the third time that Kovalchuk was a Gagarin Cup Champion. He was on the SKA St. Petersburg team that won the Gagarin Cup in 2015 and 2017.
Kovalchuk played with the Washington Capitals during the 2019-20 season, after the Caps acquired him at the trade deadline. He played in seven regular season games, scoring 1 goal and recording 3 assists and played in eight playoff games, recording one assist.
HC Avangard won their championship in Arena Balashikha, which is located in a city near Moscow, but over 2,000 kilometers from Omsk. Their old rink in Omsk was condemned due to structural defects and the new arena being constructed there will not be ready until the fall of 2022. HC Avangard has played in Arena Balashikha for the last three seasons, as they wait for their new arena to get completed.
Photo Gallery can be found here.
By Diane Doyle
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